Saturday, November 20, 2010

‘The Surprising Way to a Stronger Marriage: How the Power of One Changes Everything’ by Michael Smalley and Amy Smalley

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Anyone who has been married for any length of time can attest to the fact that marriage requires effort on the part of both members of that blessed union. In their latest book, ‘The Surprising Way to a Stronger Marriage: How the Power of One Changes Everything,’ Michael and Amy Smalley provide godly advice on how to build a more perfect union.

Here is the synopsis of this book:

Surprise! You don’t have to wait for a happier marriage. You can make a difference, beginning today – by changing yourself.
It takes two to tango, but the power of one can ignite a revolution in your relationship. By taking responsibility for your own emotions and reactions, you can improve your marriage starting now.
In The Surprising Way to a Stronger Marriage, relationship experts Michael and Amy Smalley provide the tools to help you right-size your expectations about your mate…reboot your relationship with the Trillion-dollar Question…and communicate, validate, “lean in,” and forgive – even when your spouse doesn’t.
See how to make the tools work in Surprising Solutions Scenarios. Apply the ideas to your marriage, using the study guide included. Discover how the power of one spouse, bolstered by the power of God and key principles from His Word, can change everything.
The Smalleys have seen these principles succeed, both in their Marriage Restoration Intensive program for couples on the brink of breakup and in their own relationship. Now you can watch them work in yours.
And we do mean now.

Here are Amy and Michael talking about their ministry:

The authors open Chapter 1, entitled ‘You’ve Got the Power,’ this way:

Their faces were filled with anguish as they approached us after one of our sessions at a marriage seminar. They wanted to smile, but years of unhappiness and regret had taken their toll on them. We saw their desperation, but couldn’t have been more surprised by what the husband said first.
“Can you fix this marriage in 30 seconds or less?”
Wow! We would like to fancy ourselves as talented marriage consultants. But this guy was asking for a miracle, and he was serious. Thirty seconds or less? Are you kidding?
Then it hit us, like Mike Tyson hitting Michael Spinks, and we came up with a reply.
“You want to fix your marriage in 30 seconds or less? Then start with changing yourself and decide to be a loving, supportive, active, and growing husband.”
Not surprisingly, he didn’t take to our answer.
This guy is like a lot of people in our culture. You might say we live in the land of the irresponsible and the home of the no-fault divorce; the demise of our relationships is the proof. (p. 3)

We need to take an honest look at our own weaknesses:

When we ignore our weaknesses, we can expect pride, impatience, and prejudice to follow. All three of these disconnect us from our spouse. Here’s how:

·         Pride separates us because we’re too consumed by what we “deserve” to see what our spouse needs.
·         Impatience draws us apart as our focus on our spouse’s imperfections leave us irritable and snappy.
·         Being judgmental disconnects us because, frankly, who wants to hang out with someone who’s predetermined what you mean, what you intend, and who you are?

Remember the last time you were proud, impatient, or judgmental toward your spouse? How did that go for you? That is a question we often ask couples at our Marriage Restoration Intensive; it helps people identify negative behaviors that need to change for the marriage to get better. (pp. 14-15)

Amy opened up to how she came into the marriage with Michael:

After all, my sin may look a little different from Michael’s, but it’s still sin. In this case, blaming was part of mine. When things went wrong in our marriage it was easy to look across the room and focus on Michael’s infractions. But the reality was that we both were doing unproductive things. By focusing on Michael’s brokenness, I put him down with blame and elevated myself with pride. (p. 21)

The Smalleys provided some viable – and healthier – alternatives to defensiveness:

1.   Validate
2.   Listen
3.   Ask questions
4.   Allow your spouse to have his or her opinions
5.   Get off the facts and onto the feelings
6.   When you can’t “stop it,” stop talking (pp. 31-33)

We need to give over our concerns to God:

When we struggle with the shortcomings of our spouse, we need to fix our attention on God. If we waste our energy by focusing on what’s broken with our mate, we know how it will end – in futility.
Even if your spouse doesn’t believe in God or is being resistant, God can still make an impact. He is much bigger than anyone who resists His influence and authority. (p. 45)

Validating our spouse is very healthy in our relationship:

          So why do you need to validate?
Because when your spouse feels validated, the energy to fight gets sucked out of the relationship. It’s like pouring a bucket of water on a fire. The passion or need to fight gets lost and you begin to connect with each other.
Validation is a huge way for you to bring your marriage together – whether or not your mate does the same. (p. 70)

Amy and Michael suggest that we ask the Trillion Dollar Question, which actually can come in several forms:

          The question is this: “What can I do to repair with you?”
          Or, to put it in plainer English, it could be any of the following:
          “What can I do to make this right?”
          “What do you need from me at this moment?”
          “How can I help you right now?”
          “Is there anything you need from me?”
All these questions lead your spouse down the road toward repairing conflict. (p. 85)

Chapter 18 is entitled ‘Surprising Solutions Scenarios,’ and presents some common marital struggles, and how to use the concepts from this book in those solutions.  Struggle # 1 is Fiscal Therapy. The question is:

My wife is a spender and I’m a saver. How can I get her on a budget? (p. 129)

How did my husband Fred get a question in their book?!

Seriously, there are ten real struggles, and real solutions which will, when implemented, repair many marriages.

The Epilogue ends this way:

          Those are the words we want to leave with you: Don’t give up.
You have the power of one. You have access to God’s power, too, through a relationship with His Son.
If the change in your marriage starts with you, there’s no telling how far it may go.
But there’s only one way to find out. (p. 142)

At the end of the book is a Study Guide – perfect for a couple to work through together.

I really appreciated the main theme of this book – that we need to take responsibility for our own actions, and not deflect blame onto others. It is so easy to do that. If I were to be really honest, I would have to admit that I do that more than I should – and once is one too many times… The advice to hand over our concerns to God is also biblical and wise. I appreciate how the Smalleys are sharing what they’ve learned during their marriage to help the marriages of so many others. If you are having some conflicts in your marriage – or know others who do – I would highly recommend this book as a useful tool to help you navigate your way back to a healthy and God-honoring marriage. It would be helpful both to those newly engaged and those who have been married to each other for decades.

You can order this book here.

This book was published by Tyndale House and provided by them for review purposes.

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